In September, Poland's communist government and the banned Solidarity trade union were edging toward a historic compromise. Today, the two sides again find themselves at an dangerous impasse. Scheduled round-table talks have been postponed indefinitely. Some observers here say there may be confrontation following the recent decision to close Solidarity's birthplace, the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. Thousands of demonstrators clashed with police throughout the country's cities on Friday, the 70th anniversary of Poland's independence.
Andrzej Stelmachowski and Josef Czyrek were the main protagonists in this failed dialogue. Mr. Stelmachowski, the president of the Catholic Intellectual Club, served as Solidarity's mediator. Mr. Czyrek, a Politburo member and Central Committee secretary, was his communist counterpart.
The two men had met for more than 150 hours working out details for the round table. They now have not seen each other since Oct. 27. Both looked discouraged as they described this breakdown in separate interviews:
How did the talks arrive at this impasse?
Gen. [Wojciech] Jaruzelski made a statement in mid-October saying that the trade-union pluralism would have to wait until the economy regained its health. I called Mr. Czyrek and warned him that this was dangerous. The two of us proceeded to work out a plan for the round table which I took to [labor leader Lech] Walesa. Walesa accepted all the procedures - on one condition: that we elaborate the formula to discuss trade-union pluralism. Czyrek said he would get back to me. He [later] said, ``It's impossible.'' Three days later, the government announced the closing of the shipyard - and we knew the whole idea had collapsed.
Why do you think the authorities reacted in this fashion?
The party hardliners simply were too strong. In October, communist committees in all of Poland's 49 counties met - and 39 of them sent a special protest against negotiating with Solidarity and Lech Walesa. They said, ``For seven years, you have told us Walesa is a stupid man, and now you want to negotiate with him. Did the stupid man become clever or did the government become stupid?''
Did Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev play any role in the crackdown?
No. This was our own internal affair. In the past, party officials used to tell me, unofficially of course, that it was impossible to achieve far-reaching reform because the Soviet Union was against it. Without martial law, they explained, we would have had Soviet intervention. They no longer can say this. Just look at the astonishing changes taking place in the Baltic Republics. Far-reaching political and economic reform would be in the Gorbachev line. The climate today is for reform, not for confrontation.
Why then is Gorbachev letting the Polish talks be scuttled?
I think Gorbachev is neutral. If you look at the Soviet press, there are some articles against Solidarity and some others that are very fair.
Gorbachev is willing to let Poland decide its own affairs, and if you take a look at East Germany, you see he is willing to tolerate all types of things. He has enough trouble in his own country without intervening here.
What future then do you see?
I'm pessimistic. The workers are frustrated and I fear we are heading for a great upheaval in the spring. Josef Czyrek
Mr. Stelmachowski says party hardliners were responsible for the breakdown of talks. What is your opinion?
I will tell you the same thing as Mr. Stelmachowski from the other side. Hardliners on the opposition side toughened.
In what way?
I always told Mr. Stelmachowski that we would deal only with the constructive opposition - those who are not against the Constitution. Walesa represents a whole bunch of flowers in the opposition, and he decided he wanted to include the radical ones in the round-table delegation.
The problem was limited to a question of participants?
No. We agreed that there would be no preconditions to talks. We also agreed that there would be no taboos. But the opposition made a precondition - that we guarantee to recognize Solidarity.
The opposition says you sabatoged the talks by deciding to close the Lenin shipyard. Why did you take this action?
The breakdown happened before the shipyard decision. The shipyard did not cause it. We found ourselves at an impasse and we decided that we could not wait until the talks started. We must start restructuring the economy.
There are many money-losing companies in Poland. Why choose the shipyard?
Shipyards around the world are crisis, and this particular shipyard was in a difficult position. Instead of getting better results, it has suffered two strikes and the results have gone downhill.
The Soviet Union is the main client of the Lenin Shipyard. Did Mikhail Gorbachev support this decision?
Why shouldn't he agree? We will fulfill our contracts.
Did Mr. Gorbachev play any role in this affair?
Mr. Gorbachev didn't interfere. This is a big gain from perestroika.
Did you ever plan to again legalize Solidarity?
Whenever I talked with Mr. Stelmachowski, he would agree with whatever I said, and then add, ``But we must have Solidarity.'' I said, ``What we need is a Polish type of trade-union pluralism.'' We must see what is compatible with our economic development. Maybe it would be good to have two or three unions in a factory. But personally, I doubt it.
Do you forsee the danger of unrest?
Undoubtedly, the opposition will try to pull the strike trigger. But I think they have no chance to win. We just have received [British Prime Minister] Thatcher. She allowed her miners to strike for eight months. So let our miners go out on strike. They will only lose their money.